(AS TOLD TO JAY HORTON)
Just back from Scandinavian tour supporting new old-Nashville album DANGEROUS MEs & POISONOUS YOUs with ragtag crew of acoustic all-stars, Caleb Klauder (Colobo, Foghorn Stringband, self-titled – and Bobby Flay approved – bluegrass project) sat down with bassist Jesse Emerson (formerly Decemberists and Flatirons; currently Amelia and From Words To Blows) to share snapshots and wax nostalgic about Swedish nurses, curried herring, and American country music played for Greenlandian squatters. (See Part I here.)
[Jesse Emerson, Steven "Sammy" Lind, Ned Folkerth, Caleb Klauder, Paul Brainard; fellows of infinite jest and most excellent fancy; Castle Helsingør]
Jesse: Sweden, then.
Caleb: Driving thirty minutes over a bridge.
J: It's like the Vancouver of Denmark.
C: Unfortunately, this was the only show dominated by young people. There was a bunch of them super into American country music.
J: And they dress the part.
C: In Sweden, as Sammy said, the way you look is very important.
J: We played this restaurant with a big back room that resembles a ski chalet—perfect backdrop. Almost a Doug Fir job, but not quite as L.A.
C: It started out as a club of folks that loved country music. They would come in and play records for each other—pretty charming—and, after a year of DJ-ing, they decided to put on music shows.
J: Klubb Bakersfield.
C: Good show. We had lesbians, we had strippers, we had couples line-dancing, we -
J: Those weren't lesbians.
C: They weren't?
J: No, they weren't.
C: Oh … I got hit on that night by a guy, big-time.
J: They are Swedes.
C: You know how it is. Nice to be hit on. Flattering.
J: Every single gig was entirely different. A couple in pubs were similar the way all pubs are the same, but this was a Danish community center, middle of the afternoon, old warehouse kind of building.
C: That's where we met the promoters. In Bornholm—this island between Sweden and Poland. Way off of Denmark.
J: He was very excited to be booking us at Bornholm.
C: He's restored a barn, and, a folk singer, wants to have a country-music fairground and book shows. And, turns out, Jesse's great-great-great-grandfather was from there.
J: Any little connection …
C: Kind of a weird gig, though. The problem with the Danes—they wouldn't fucking dance.
J: By the end of the tour, it became a little inside joke to say 'we've got a big dance floor, anybody gonna give it a try?'
C: And then some old couple would come out and waltz. ‘Ok, you guys are really partying now!' It's hard to say – we had a great adventure but some of it was really kinda mild.
J: Shamrock benefit concert. This was a great night.
C: Kinda off-the-wall, off-the-cuff …
J: I ended up in Sweden that night.
C: You were in love.
J: We took the train. This fellow Oscar tried to convince me to drive, but the blood alcohol level in Sweden is zero point zero, somehow, which doesn't make any sense. Nothing would've happened to me if we were busted except I never would've been allowed to drive in Sweden again, but … I wasn't willing to take that chance.
C: You met quite a few gals. First thing I knew that night, you were talking to one gal, then another, then a whole bunch of gals. You have a way.
J: It's nice to be in a country where everybody is just as inhibited as you are. And, also, I'm a big fan of the language barrier.
C: Because you can say things you wouldn't otherwise say?
J: Well … ah … well, it's … you know …
C: We did the benefit, had another day off, spent a lot of money, shitloads of money.
J: That's the problem with the day off in Scandinavia.
C: One day off, it's like minimum a $100 a person.
J: And not only are you not getting paid-
C: And you're not getting fed-
J: But it's NINE DOLLARS A BEER!
C: Then we went to Hagges in Tønder where the festival was gonna be. Hagges was a cool pub. Pretty mellow gig.
J: Right on the German border in the middle of nowhere.
C: This is where the whole dream came from, going to the Tønder festival with Foghorn, right when we were recording this album, and I was fantasizing about going there with a country band. It's a great festival. They take their music seriously.
J: It's one of the biggest folk festivals.
C: Folk and jazz, and we're sort of on the fringe since we don't really fit into either of those scenes. Awesome big German circus tents, and they set up this whole fucking village.
J: We get to the town in the afternoon, and it just seemed … so Minnesota.
C: How? It's by the ocean? That's not Minnesota.
J: Well, there's lakes … just a simple small town feel.
C: That was a great show. Crowd size, interest—they were singing along with the songs but they didn't even know them!
J: Whole problem with people not dancing didn't really exist. They were letting loose.
C: The forty-somethings were the ones that were raging. They all had their small town sense of 'every four months, this is our time to party.'
J: No young gals in the small towns.
C: We spotted one young gal at that gig.
J: Over by the left?
C: Ah, she didn't even look.
J: I think she was sitting by her dad.
C: Or chaperone.
J: She was cute, though. How young do you think?
J: We stay up late, play this gig, this gal's birthday, play music for her and-
C: Get rousted ridiculously early.
J: You don't ask questions because you're on tour, and your tour agent is saying you have to get up-
C: Only because we had to eat breakfast-
J: At a cop's house.
C: It's second only to the Irish – their hospitality's over the top, their hospitality's gonna literally kill you. Somebody's gonna keep you up all night drinking and chatting and someone else will wake you up at the crack of dawn to serve the traditional full-on breakfast because they have to show you what it's like. Four kinds of pickled herring, smoked trout, pâté, baskets of beer.
J: Potatoes, always potatoes.
C: It was … so Danish.
J: Then we went up to Esbjerg, right? Old tobacco factory.
C: That was the first gig where we opened up, kinda sucked because we were used to getting drunk and playing later.
J: Real venue, that was nice.
C: But the people were stale.
J: Backstage, they found us whiskey—it's hard to come by in Denmark for some reason – and, it's the last night, everyone got trashed on Bushmills. Left early enough, went back to the bars, some of us went home with …
C: Apparently, Jesse changed clothes with somebody.
J: Changed clothes?
C: They said yo-
J: Ohhhhhh. Oh. Her name was Stina. We exchanged clothes in the bathroom.
C: What I heard, the next morning, Jesse came out of the bathroom with long black dress and … black tights?
J: Sounds familiar.
C: Denmark was relatively dull, but … some of us made the most of it.
Caleb Klauder plays the Mission Theater on April 24. Jesse Emerson and Amelia have their CD Release at the Aladdin April 19. Ned Folkerth plays with Lewi Longmire every Thursday at Laurelthirst happy hour (6-8). The rest is silence.
Photos provided by the interviewees.